Saturday, January 12, 2013

AnandTech Article Channel

AnandTech Article Channel

CES 2013 in Retrospect: Laptop Market Trends

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 11:48 PM PST

With CES now wrapped up and all of us home or headed home, Anand has tasked each of us with putting together some thoughts on what we saw at CES and where the market is headed. I’ve discussed much of what I’m going to say here in our recent podcast, but with my area of focus being laptops I’ve got both good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good news.

Last year at CES 2012, I gave my thoughts on some of the most exciting products of the show for me. Chief among these were the Lenovo Yoga, ThinkPad X220, and the Sony VAIO SE, both of which shared a common trait: IPS display panels. They were really the only two laptops I saw one year ago with IPS panels, and it was frustrating to see displays improving on other devices while the laptop languished in mediocrity. I read a book recently where the question was posed: what’s the opposite of success? If you answered failure like so many do, you’re only correct if we’re speaking in terms of the English language antonym. The author of that book posited—and I wholly support his position—that the opposite of success is mediocrity, and in fact if you want to succeed, your best bet is to increase your rate of failure. The people and companies that succeed don’t do so by accident; they do so by repeatedly trying, and in the process that might mean one, two, or many failures.

This year at CES 2013, not only have we reviewed several IPS equipped laptops over the past year, but there were numerous laptops on display where it’s apparent that the OEMs are finally starting to get the importance of display quality. The race to the bottom hasn’t finished, sadly, but with displays the OEMs are finally being forced into recognizing how critical the component that you stare at whenever you use a device really is. A walk through Intel’s booth for example had well over a dozen different Ultrabooks and laptops on display; many of these—and in particular the hybrid laptop/tablet devices—are now using IPS panels, or some other equally viable wide viewing angle technology (*VA or PLS). As such laptops begin to occupy retail space next to the budget TN panels, hopefully there will be enough uptake of the laptops with improved displays that we can finally halt the downward spiral we’ve been on in that area.

The bad news is that the reason we have this trend towards better displays is almost completely attributable to tablets. When consumers look at a $300-$400 tablet and see wide viewing angle displays with decent colors and good contrast and then they look at laptops with low-end TN panels, their eyes tell them all that they need to know about which looks better. The problem is that more and more people are shifting to tablets, and once they leave they’re basically gone for good. I said something similar to quite a few of the vendors that I met with, and the message bears repeating: if tablets offer better displays, better build quality, better features, and an overall better experience, for many people a $400 tablet (or $500 with a keyboard of some form) is the far more sensible choice.

I don’t think everyone will end up using tablets and smartphones in place of laptops, at least not in the near future, in part because many of us older folks just don’t have the vision to deal well with smaller screens. However, I also don’t think we’re anywhere near the final equilibrium in terms of tablets vs. laptops, and when we reach that point I suspect that tablets will be outselling laptops in the market just like laptops are outselling desktops today. The best way to stem the tide of departing laptop users is to improve the value of what they’re getting—not only by cutting the price of laptops, but also by offering better features and quality. Better displays, especially touchscreens, are a good way to keep people buying laptops. Better battery life and a more consistent user experience (e.g. good SSDs) also help. But mark my words: just as the netbook market has essentially imploded, going from dozens of netbooks from every conceivable manufacturer to essentially none at this CES, the budget laptop market is likely to do the same. Tablets are there to pick up the users, and the only real question is will those tablets be running Windows, Android, or iOS.

Quick Look at ASUS UX51V: My CES 2013 Laptop

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 11:40 PM PST

Brian and Vivek talked about their CES equipment, and I thought I’d chime in as well—except I don’t really have anything worth discussing other than my laptop. My Nikon D3100 DSLR with a kit lens and a dumbphone (with a slider keypad) aren’t even worth this sentence, so we’ll just move on. No, the only really exciting piece of kit that I have for Las Vegas this year is ASUS’ new UX51V “not-an-Ultrabook”, which is basically an Ultrabook but with a standard voltage quad-core processor. Take last year’s Ivy Bridge N56VM prototype, upgrade the dGPU to a GT 650M, switch to the 35W quad-core i7-3612QM, and then make it all thinner and give it an aluminum chassis and you’ve got the UX51V.

The UX51VZ is sleek looking, offers plenty of performance potential, and it might just be the best laptop I’ve been able to test during the past year. If it were just looks, we wouldn’t have much to discuss, but ASUS pairs the nice looks and attractive components (in most areas) with some great elements like a 1080p matte IPS display. Hallelujah! (It’s an LG Display LP156WF4-S if you’re wondering.) Maybe we’re finally at the point where high-end laptops can ditch the TN panels we’ve been using for over a decade? The keyboard layout is also good (it’s still missing the full-size Zero key for the 10-key, but that’s my only real complaint) and the keyboard is backlit. The UX51VZ showed up on my doorstep unannounced right around Christmas (in the middle of a move), so I didn’t get a chance to really put it to the test yet, and CES 2013 served as the proving grounds.

There are a few oddities with the UX51V, however. First, ASUS goes the dual-SSD in RAID 0 route (with SanDisk drives—the model number is SD5SE2128G1002E, and it appears to be based on the newer SanDisk drives with the Marvell SS889175 controller), so all the usual caveats apply: potentially less reliable and no faster for random accesses. Given this is a high-end Windows 8 laptop, it’s also at least a bit surprising that the LCD isn’t a touchscreen; I’m not really feeling the loss—in fact, I’m ecstatic we’re looking at a matte IPS panel!—but undoubtedly some people will be disappointed. The touchpad on the other hand is a sore spot for me, as I’m getting periodic activation of the touchpad while typing this up and it’s just not as responsive as I’d like. ASUS uses Elan hardware with their own customized drivers, and for all the complaining we’ve done over the past year they still don’t seem to have the drivers nailed down (though I have to note that I haven’t looked for updated drivers yet).

Before we get to this mini-review quick look, I want to note that I still haven’t had a chance to benchmark the laptop and see how it holds up under a sustained load. I have concerns as you’ll note that the hardware is basically the same as what I tested in Dell’s XPS 15 last summer. The XPS 15 simply couldn’t handle any sustained load, going so far as to heavily throttle both the CPU and GPU even when just playing games—never mind actual stress testing where both the CPU and GPU are at 100% loads simultaneously. Hopefully, the UX51VZ holds up well, because it really has some great qualities going for it.

The look and feel is certainly one of the main points of attraction for the UX51VZ. ASUS takes the Xenbook aesthetic and simply inflates it to the 15.6” form factor, and the result works quite well. The larger area also makes room for a full 10-key, and in fact there’s about an inch or so to spare on the sides that ASUS could have used to fix the one complaint: the smallish [0] on the number keypad. Of all the 15.6” laptops I’ve looked at so far, the best of the breed in terms of keyboard and layout is the Samsung Series 7 Chronos, where both the 17.3” and 15.6” models have nearly perfect keyboard layouts. After that, the ASUS is at least close, with a generally good feel and no layout quirks. But enough about the look and feel of the laptop—though arguably those are some of the most important elements—how did the UX51VZ fare at CES?

Obviously, pulling out a laptop to do some writing isn’t exactly something you do without thought. Most people are running around with smartphones or at most a tablet to use for checking appointments and such. A full-size laptop is cumbersome, and even at a bit under five pounds the UX51VZ is certainly not “light”. It does come out of sleep quickly enough (under two seconds), and I appreciate having full access to all my Windows applications, but a tablet or smartphone is far more handy on the show floor. Connectivity is merely “okay” as well; ASUS includes a dual-band 802.11n WiFi adapter, the Intel Advanced-N 6235 (with Bluetooth support), but the wireless stack just isn’t as well optimized as on certain other laptops (MacBooks, basically—if you ever get a chance, do a comparison of connection speeds and send/receive rates in a crowded area with a PC vs. a MacBook and you’ll see what I’m talking about).

Battery life was a bit odd. ASUS is using a 72Wh battery, which is quite large for something this thin but very much appreciated. Typical runtime using the Power4Gear Battery Saving setting should be much higher, but I estimate my light use (mostly typing with some WiFi and Internet) at CES still only managed around five hours. With meetings and other things going on where the laptop wasn’t in use, that should have been sufficient, but on Thursday I actually used up the battery after just eight hours, during most of which the laptop was asleep in my backpack. Either the somewhat frequent suspect/resume used up power, the standby mode used more power than expected, or something else funky was going on. I would have estimated light battery use to get closer to seven hours, and with my Thursday schedule I probably only had the laptop out and active for three hours. I’ll have to look into this more, but it’s possible either connected standby was sucking up a fair amount of power or else the laptop actually wasn’t fully entering sleep mode. For the remaining three days of CES time, I never had a problem and today I’m still at 50% battery life with an estimated 2.5 hours remaining after a couple hours of use throughout the day.

Outside of the running out of power on Thursday, however, I have few complaints. The UX51VZ performed well and it was light enough to carry around while still offering an excellent display and a good user experience. This is the sort of laptop we’d really like to see more companies making—not necessarily 15.6”, but all the other aspects: great screen, good build quality, a good keyboard, and in general no areas where we have to really hold up a red flag and point out flaws. Several of the other AnandTech editors were quite impressed with the overall look and feel of the UX51VZ and expressed an interest in buying one. And unfortunately, that’s one thing the UX51VZ doesn’t have going for it: the price. Similar to the Acer Aspire S7, for all the great qualities on tap, the price may simply be too much for most potential customers. The MSRP of our review unit is $1999 I believe—it appears to sell online for around $1910. We can do the math, and as we noted in the Acer S7 review, it’s simply too much for something that doesn’t have the following of an Apple product.

I’d put the BoM (Bill of Materials) at close to $850, and some of the other editors think even that’s too high; asking over twice the BoM is just not something you can do in the Windows laptop space unless you’re selling enterprise laptops/mobile workstations. The price should probably be closer to $1500, and then we’d have a serious contender on hand. If ASUS wanted to be daring, try selling direct to customers at those prices and cut out the third party middlemen, and they’d not only grab some awards but they’d also make a lot more money per unit. At the current price, we have a great laptop that we can recommend in most areas, but most people will balk at the bottom line and likely go elsewhere. Still, I can’t say enough how pleased I am that ASUS is putting 1080p IPS displays in their higher end laptops; it’s almost enough to make me look past the pricing…almost.

ECS Shows Off Mini-ITX Boards and AIO Touchscreens

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 10:43 PM PST

ECS invited us to stop by and we expected the usual assortment of motherboards and such. Much to our surprise, they only brought a few mITX boards at their suite, but the reasoning makes sense: CES isn’t about computer components, and mITX are the most likely boards to go into consumer friendly products like HTPCs, All-In-Ones, cars, etc. And to that end, most of the demo systems ECS had on hand were using these mITX boards, including a couple of touchscreen AIOs.

On display ECS had the 23.5” G24 Aura with support for up to Core i7 Ivy Bridge processors. The G11 is the next size down with a 21.5” touchscreen panel, again with the same Ivy Bridge CPU support. Both of the larger displays are 1080p, but I failed to check if the panel tech was IPS, *VA, TN, or something else. (I’ll try to get word from ECS in the next few days.) The third AIO is the G18, with an 18.5” 1366x768 panel and an integrated Celeron 847 (Sandy Bridge). The full specs and features for all of the devices, including other mITX boxes, can be seen in the image gallery.

Sapphire mITX and a Budget Tahiti GPU

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 10:17 PM PST

Like most graphics companies, Sapphire didn’t have anything major to announce at CES. Their suite was mostly dedicated to showing off their Mini-ITX Edge VS boxes, which were launched previously. The new addition to the Edge VS series is the option for a DIY box—you get the case, motherboard, power and have to supply the CPU, RAM, and storage. This is a nice alternative for those that like to roll their own, as pre-configured systems often make component selections that disappoint enthusiasts. Pricing should be around $300 for the barebones kit (don’t quote me on that—it’s merely an estimate), so with a moderate CPU, 8GB RAM, and an SSD you’re looking at roughly $600 for what could prove to be a nice little HTPC-type box.

Besides Edge, there are a couple interesting GPUs to discuss. First up is the low profile, single-slot HD 7750 offering, which is probably the fastest GPU you’re likely to find at retail in a low profile design. What’s more, Sapphire still offers the ability to drive up to five displays: two from the Mini-DisplayPort, one mini-HDMI, and two from the DL-DVI connector. It’s mostly aimed at digital signage, but I’m sure at least a few of our readers could find other interesting uses for it.

The other GPU is at the higher end of the spectrum: a cut-down Tahiti offering with I think 1536 cores. Full Tahiti in the HD 7970 has 2048 cores; the trimmed solution in the 7950 goes with 1792 (xxx) cores at a lower clock, and Sapphire’s offering will have 1536 cores clocked at 900MHz. So what’s the name of the part? The HD 7930 would make the most sense, but apparently AMD isn’t playing that game and is requiring the part to be sold as a 7800 series card. I believe Sapphire calls their card the HD 7870 XT or something similar, but it’s important to note that this is still a full Tahiti GPU in other areas and it should easily outperform the HD 7800 Pitcairn offerings (which max out at 1280 cores clocked at up to 1000MHz xxx). Pricing should fall roughly in between the 7870 and the 7950, so it’s yet another option for the sub-$300 market.

LTE Broadcast (EMBMS) Shown Running on Verizon's Band 4 LTE on Qualcomm Hardware

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 07:05 PM PST

Another demo I was impressed by at the Qualcomm booth was LTE Broadcast (EMBMS - Evolved Multimedia Broadcast / Multicast Service) demonstrated on a live test network showing an example live streaming event video player. EMBMS is a service which allows, as its name suggests, multicast delivery of both live streaming video and data. The service is a part of the 3GPP specification and is aimed at reducing network load when there's some traffic workload that everyone on the network in either a single cell, region, or entire network are likely to watch or view. The ideal workload example is a stadium where participants all want to watch multiple angles of broadcast video — rather than unicast individual video streams to each user in the stadium which would quickly overwhelm the network, the idea is to multicast the same video streams or data to every user on the network. A middleware layer on the device then exposes EMBMS data to applications or the OS for it to use. 

Qualcomm provides a middleware layer on its devices that implement EMBMS for applications to use, along with an SDK and APIs for developers to make their applications able to use EMBMS data. The use case in the stadium scenario involves a user installing a stadium application and then accessing the streams through it. Running this at the 2014 "Big Game" was alluded to during the Paul Jacobs keynote, and I'm told there's considerable pressure to make this happen. Of course this will require the appropriate network resources and either updates to devices or new devices with the middleware layer.

What was interesting was that this demo was running on 10 MHz of Verizon's Band 4 just for the show. EMBMS works by allocating a certain number of resource blocks to the service, and in Release 9 (what this demo was running) up to 60 percent of the resource blocks for a given carrier can be allocated to the service. The same demo and streams were playing back at their own booth as well, which I took a look at. There were four 1.9 Mbps WVGA streams running H.264 video, which looked very good compared to the usual couple hundred kilobits streams I see some large events running across a unicast layer. 

Qualcomm Demos Category 4 LTE (150 Mbps) running on Snapdragon 800 / MSM8974

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 06:50 PM PST

At Qualcomm's booth among a number of other Snapdragon 800 (the newly-announced SoC formerly or also known as MSM8974) demos was one that caught my attention. Qualcomm setup a 20 MHz LTE test network on Band 4 (AWS) using Ericsson test equipment to demonstrate full UE Category 4 throughput on a development board with the SoC inside. This is the same IP block that is inside MDM9x25 which we talked about earlier, that is capable of LTE-Advanced with carrier aggregation, Category 4, and other features.

I saw throughput of just north of 140 Mbps on the demo, which was streaming three videos over the test network setup exclusively for the demo and also loading through webpages. 

ADATA’s WiFi Router/Hotspot/Charger

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 06:37 PM PST

This was something of a unique product, though perhaps not extremely useful. There are plenty of wireless routers, hotspots, and USB charging devices out there, but ADATA is combining the functions into a single device with their AE400 and AE800 DashDrive Air.

The AE400 supports up to 10 devices and includes an SD card reader, so for those times when you’re not looking to connect ten different devices directly to the Internet (hello LVH where you get charged $14 per device per day for crappy Internet!), the AE400/AE800 could prove quite handy. In addition the AE400 has a 5000mAh power bank (single cell, so that would be 18.5-10Wh) that can be used to charge USB devices like smartphones.

The big brother AE800 has all of the same core features as above but it supports just 8 devices and adds wireless repeating functionality, a 500GB internal 2.5” hard drive, and a USB 3.0 interface for external storage. The battery capacity remains the same, so with the need to power the internal HDD along with the WiFi you should expect less battery life while gaining some additional features. ADATA didn't specify the interfaces that they support, which I'd assume means 2.4GHz 1x1:1 MIMO (150Mbps) maximum.

ADATA Shows Off Enterprise SSDs, RAM, NAND, etc.

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 06:33 PM PST

ADATA invited us to their suite to show us some of their latest and greatest offerings. Most of the items on display have been previously launched, but they did have a couple new pieces of hardware. First up is that ADATA is announcing an enterprise class SSD line, the SX1000. I’m not exactly sure why this is “enterprise class”, however, as they’re using SF-2281 controllers with standard capacities of 120/240/480GB.

Read/write speeds reach up to 550/530MB/s with up to 85K IOPS, which we’ve seen elsewhere. Most enterprise class SandForce/LSi based SSDs use the SF-2581 controller, and ADATA rates their MTBF at 1 million hours with a 3-year warranty, both of which are basically par for the course. Unless I’m missing something specific, the X1000 just looks like any other SF-2281 consumer drive, though I suppose the fact that ADATA’s consumer SSDs with SF-2281 have 7% spare area (e.g. 256GB out of 256GiB) does make the new line potentially more reliable.

Besides the SX1000, ADATA had some mSATA SSDs on show along with new M.2/NGFF SSDs. The M.2 drives include the longer form factor XNS380E with the SF-2281 (again) and capacities of 64/128/256/512GB. The second M.2 SSD is for caching purposes, with a smaller size, a JMicron JMF667 controller, and capacities of 24/32/64GB. Read/write speeds are quoted at up to 450/100MB/s with up to 24K IOPS, neither of which is particularly impressive, but for a caching SSD it’s probably sufficient.

Moving on to the RAM and flash memory, as you’d expect ADATA had a ton of products on display. Most of these aren’t particularly noteworthy (at least not that I can tell), with a bunch of USB sticks, DIMMs, and other devices. The full set of images for all of the above can be seen in the gallery.

Verizon shows off Alcatel Lucent LightRadio-based LTE Small Cells - Deploying in 2H 2013

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 06:23 PM PST

I dropped by Verizon's booth at CES 2013 and among all the consumer electronics and devices that we've pretty much already seen before saw one new thing — Alcatel Lucent's small cell based on the LightRadio project. What we're looking at is a Cube Dock 2600 radio head which contains the antenna, RF components, power amplifier, and is designed to work in conjunction with fiber backhaul that ships that downcoverted RF to a baseband in a datacenter somewhere or to a centrally located rack for processing. These are small cells that will radiate around 250 milliwatts of power, with one band per radiohead. The idea is to do LTE Band 13 on these in trouble spots on the operator's network.

The Cube Dock 2600 will be deployed by Verizon starting 2H 2013 to do what amounts to hole filling in the operator's network. That is, deployment in small dead zones such as under a bridge or inside a mall that's still too small or under trafficked for a DAS (Distributed Antenna System) or urban environment. 

Hands On with Samsung Galaxy S 2 Plus - Contains BCM28155 SoC

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 06:08 PM PST

Earlier in the week Samsung announced the Galaxy S 2 Plus, a rather strange late-cycle update to the SGS2. The device is pretty much what you'd expect, and contains similar specs to the existing SGS2 — 1.2 GHz dual core SoC, 4.3-inch SAMOLED Plus WVGA display, Android 4.1.2, and quad band HSPA+ 21.1. 

What was unknown about the Galaxy S 2 Plus was which SoC was inside. Originally I assumed this was just a respun Exynos 4 inside, but while I was at Broadcom's booth I noticed the Galaxy S 2 Plus on display, and noted that it includes a BCM28155 SoC inside.

BCM28155 consists of two 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex A9s alongside a two core Broadcom VideoCore IV solution. I'm unclear about fabrication process but suspect 40nm TSMC or so. The entire Galaxy S 2 Plus is one big Broadcom reference design as well, and I'm told this time Samsung finally ditched the discrete Fujitsu ISP in the place of Broadcom's on-SoC ISP. GLBenchmark 2.5.1 was already installed on the device, likely by a customer, however I had trouble getting the device to complete a run. The SGS2 Plus felt speedy, however, I wasn't able to do much in depth benchmarking. 

Source: Samsung (Product Specs)

Broadcom Teases its first LTE-enabled Baseband with VoLTE Demo

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 05:51 PM PST

I dropped Broadcom during CES, and while we've already covered most of what they had to show off, one of the things which immediately caught my eye was a demonstration of VoLTE running on an as-of-yet unannounced LTE baseband of theirs. I've been hearing endless rumbling about Broadcom's LTE baseband being in both testing and validation, and it made its first appearance in a rather coy form at CES 2013. The demo showed off a VoLTE implementation running AMR-WB working on an LTE test box running Band 13 LTE (Verizon), and a good 3.9 (out of 5) MOS (Mean Opinion Score) voice quality score through a Metrico test box. This just demonstrates good voice fidelity through their system and that frames aren't being lost. 

Broadcom's LTE baseband ensquared in red

Broadcom showed off a reference design powered by their own dual core A9 SoC which they claim has been in testing and validation at major operators in the US such as Verizon and AT&T. The platform is entirely Broadcom - SoC, WiFi/BT/GPS combo, baseband, and RF. Broadcom isn't announcing a specific part, and declined to tell me any further specifics such as 3GPP Release (you can draw your own conclusions - it is clearly at least Rel. 9), UE Category on LTE, other supported air interfaces (other than 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE), bands, or platform. There are some interesting photos however of the solution being compared in a rather direct fashion to the MDM9x15 and RTR8600 combination in the iPhone 5 where Broadcom claims 37 percent smaller package size (ostensibly for transceiver and baseband), along with support for envelope tracking (driving the power amplifiers intelligently) VoLTE support, and better coexistence with its own combo chips. 

I expect to hear an official announcement with further details at MWC. 

CES 2013: Real Talk In A Surreal Spectacle

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 04:56 PM PST

Anand asked us to say a few words about this year's CES. We're not the sort to award prizes at trade shows, nor do a "Best of CES" type round-up. The idea was more to paint the show in broad strokes. So what's hot at CES? Not CES. 
Part way through one of the annual press conferences, an entire market segment was punted. No announcements were ready, and the speaker wholesale punted. They told the crowd to wait a few weeks, for the news to come. it was a heroic moment. During a later meeting, some great technical marketing staff were eager to share as much information as they could. But CES is such an echo chamber of FUD and unclear information, that they were more comfortable waiting till after the show was over. CES wasn’t a vehicle for distributing information, it was an obstacle. Their choice was frustrating, but laudable. 
That’s not to imply that stories weren’t told, and that we didn’t learn a lot more than we would have from home. The greatest asset CES has is its attendees. This sounds self-serving, but truly isn’t; our greatest asset is our readers. We are at CES to serve you, to ask your questions, and to relay the news to you. And they are there to answer them, whoever they may be. During CES this year I collected dozens of business cards. These aren’t bragging rights, these are opportunities that we mustn’t waste. Every conversation must be invested in, must be taken for its full value, not just as a way to get answers, but to develop trust and strengthen relationships.
There’s a problem though. Whatever else, CES is a business, and it’s hard to make money on other people’s conversations. And so, the over the top press conferences must continue. The massive booths and outsized promises will persist. But if you read something that really captures your interest, something that really wows you, know that it’s likely not something served up in a spectacle. It came from conversations with the people that make CES worth the trip. What’s trending at CES? I don’t know. I was too busy talking to some pretty amazing people. 

A Cheaper Way to 4K: Intel’s Collage Driver

Posted: 11 Jan 2013 07:16 AM PST

A Cheaper Way to 4K: Intel’s Collage Driver

If you heard my recent rant on Podcast 13, my main beef was with the state of monitors to the end user.  With 5 inch 1080p screens becoming the norm, finding a monitor that could show above 1920x1080 in anything less than 27” was quite rare.  An idea thrown around in the Podcast was to place four 1080p 10” tablet screens in a 2x2 arrangement and sell it as a monitor, even if consistency between panels was an issue – this would give 4K in 20”, a form factor that Panasonic showcased at CES with a tablet (albeit with a single substrate).  Thus the only way to get 4K on a home system would be to rig up four small 1080p monitors (small being 20”) and connect them to an applicable graphics setup.

One of the goals of Intel’s HD graphics via a processor is to support 4K resolutions. As part of the CES showcase, Gigabyte demonstrated how they can support 4K via the Intel graphics solution on their motherboards that use two Thunderbolt ports.

Back at Computex 2012 Gigabyte gave us a look at their dual Thunderbolt-enabled motherboard range, and we reviewed the Z77X-UP4 TH soon after.  Each of the Thunderbolt ports complies with the DisplayPort 1.1a standard, giving support for 2K from each.  It has taken since then for Intel to release a driver capable of splitting a 4K stream into separate 2K streams, and Gigabyte put the system together for journalists to see.

The driver supports a number of 4K resolutions, including 3840x2400 (1200p in 2x2), 3840x2160 (1080p in 2x2), 7680x1200 (1200p in 1x4) and 7680x1080 (1080p in 1x4) with variations therein.  In order to support this, the end user needs four DisplayPort enabled monitors, two DisplayPort to Dual DisplayPort adapters, the relevant cables, and if needed, a monitor stand.  A ball park figure for this setup could be around $1400 for cheap displays, making it a relatively simple way to enable 4K using HD Graphics only.

There are a few caveats.  Firstly, the collage driver from Intel is not on final release as of yet, but expected to go live in the next month.  When it does, Gigabyte will have a version on their website for each of their boards.  Another caveat is the infancy of the driver – there is no bezel correction on the version that Gigabyte used, and it is unknown if it will be supported at release.  The final caveat is compatibility – in Gigabyte’s testing of the few DisplayPort to Dual DisplayPort adapters they could acquire in Taiwan, only the one from Lenovo worked for them.  There is a possibility that many more do work, but they are as-of-yet untested.  Also, the one from Lenovo is only rated to 3840x2160, meaning 1200p monitors are off the table in that setup.

Stewart Haston from Gigabyte Marketing explains how it is put together:

As a ballpark figure, I put together what a simple monitor setup would cost to support this display:

Four 1080p DP monitors: ~$250 for 21.5”
Two Lenovo DP to 2xDP Adapters: Part #0B47092 ($80 each)
Two mDP to DP Adapters: $10 each
Quad Monitor Stand: $300

Monitor Setup cost: $1480

As for the system to power it, any compatible motherboard and HD4000 graphics combination with memory, case, storage and power supply.  The following is almost the bare minimum, though with memory cheap I went for a dual channel setup, and on the storage side I went for an mSATA SSD as the motherboard chosen supports it.

GA-Z77X-UP4 TH: $185
i3-3225: $148
2x4GB DDR3-1333: $39
300W Bronze PSU: $40
Generic Case: $25+
Crucial m4 64GB mSATA SSD: $70

System Setup Cost: $507

Total cost: $1480 + $507 = $1987

A couple more points to note.  ASRock have released a dual thunderbolt motherboard as well (the ASRock Z77 Extreme6/TB4) so it should work on that.  Also, this setup is using DisplayPort 1.1a – DisplayPort 1.2 should be able to support 4K over a single cable when it is released with the Redwood Ridge Thunderbolt controller.  DisplayPort 1.2 should be able to be daisy chained if monitors have dual DP 1.2 support, but a DisplayPort to Quad DisplayPort device might need to be invented to get around problematic daisy chaining.

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